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Roy Tuscany had spent most of his life on the slopes, training in the hopes of one day competing in the Olympics.

The only Vermonter in his family to develop a love for skiing, he knew it would become his destiny. He focused his entire life around the sport and moved west to Lake Tahoe, where he could teach kids and train.

But one day, his ambition got the best of him — or so it seemed. He ignored what he taught his students and hit a jump on new skis while the snow was harder and the wind was stronger.


High Fives founder Roy Tuscany in Vermont. Photo by Brooks Curran.

The allure was too strong to consider any of the above, drowned out by the call of the sensation of the flight, the distance, and the perfect jump.

Going 130 feet on a 100-foot jump, the impact onto ground instantly paralyzed him from the belly down, and he lost motor skills, sensation, feeling.

When your entire life is about mountain sports, a paralyzing injury isn’t something that keeps you off the slopes — no matter how traumatizing the experience. Swearing off skiing just wasn’t an option. "I knew I didn't want to sulk, and I knew the next move would have to change for me to stay on this path," he says.

Roy Tuscany. Photo by Generikal Design.

Tuscany was surrounded by a network of not just medical professionals, but personal friends, family, and community members who supported his recovery on all levels every step of the way.  

He underwent multiple surgeries, including the insertion of two rods, eight screws, and two plates placed in his back to stabilize and support his spine, followed by Achilles-tendon-lengthening surgery on each ankle that would allow his feet to be flat.

Roy Tuscany in recovery. Photo via High Fives Foundation.

But just learning to ski again wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more.

His traumatic injury became the catalyst that caused him to offer a hand to other athletes who had experienced the same.

Determined to pay forward all the support he had received, he created a foundation to raise injury prevention awareness for athletes who have experienced life-altering injuries. They also provide rehabilitation services and financial support for medical treatment.

High Fives athlete at Adaptive Waterski Camp. Photo by High Fives Foundation via GoPro.

In addition to helping with rehabilitation, the foundation gives athletes a bit more knowledge through its educational program to help prevent another accident  

"For a long time, parents told us we supported daredevils who get hurt, so we created this presentation to help them make better choices," Tuscany says.

A High Fives athlete at the foundation's rehab facility. Photo by Elevated Image Photography.

Known as the BASICS program (an acronym for Be Aware Safe In Critical Situations), the curriculum highlights some of the most frequent but commonly disregarded key safety measures athletes make, like listening to your intuition instead of your ego and increasing your speed without being aware of the consequences.

It's a presentation they travel the country to deliver in person, and it can also be viewed online, with over 225,000 views to date.

Even the name Tuscany chose — the High Fives Foundation — reflects the positivity he received.

One day, after a specific surgery, he held up his hand for his doctor, who had just told him it went well, to slap it.

High Fives members. Photo by Generikal Design.

"After that, it was always high-fives all around because it’s impossible to give a high-five and not feel an exchange of positivity," Tuscany says.

The High Fives Foundation officially got off the ground in 2009.

To date, it has helped 159 athletes from 31 states get rehabilitated and back out there.

The first athlete the foundation helped had been hurt in a skiing accident. The foundation raised $25,000 in its first year — largely through word of mouth — enabling them to offer that skier personal training, a gym membership, ski lessons, and equipment to help get him ready to hit the slopes again.

"We started with [that] one program, an empowerment fund, and were able to grow," Tuscany says, "so that when insurance says 'no,' we say 'yes,' when they suffer life-altering injuries, even if it’s from a car accident."

Military to the Mountain participants on the slopes. Photo by Generikal Design.

At the adaptive camps, athletes who live with permanently altered abilities can take part in the sports they love.

This includes water skiing, surfing, and mountain climbing.

High Fives has also started a program for veterans who have been wounded in the line of duty.

They are given nine weeks of group training for skiing and snowboarding and a full week to hit the slopes. "Individuals volunteer once a week because they’ve built relationships and friendships with members of the staff," Tuscany says. "These guys have the biggest hearts in the world."

Athlete Jeff Andrews and Roy Tuscany. Photo by ClarkBourne Creative.

One snowboarder particularly grateful for the support is Jeff Andrews, who became paralyzed from the middle of his sternum downward.

The High Fives Foundation was there for him during his entire recovery. The organization also sent him on a trip to Hawaii, where he was able to learn to surf. And this experience was transformative for him — giving him a new goal to strive for: become the best surfer he could be.

And three weeks ago, Jeff decided he wanted to go to the U.S. World Surfing Championships.

He won first place in the U.S. Adaptive Division, proving that it’s not just ice or snow that can be healing.

Photo by ClarkBourne Creative.

Folks with disabilities, with little to no function, can move a little in ocean water, according to High Fives's founder.

"The motion is magnified by, like, 100," Tuscany says. "These little twists out of the water are moving. It’s such a positive rush. All of a sudden, your foot and legs are moving."

In addition to the unique "human-care" component that sets it apart from some similar organizations out there, the High Five Foundations Empowerment Grant paves the way for each individual to find their own path back to action.

"We bring everyone into our Ohana, a super powerful term in the Hawaiian culture to define family," Tuscany says. "When you care about the human, the results are endless in their pursuit."

Update 8/15/2017: The share image was changed.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

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James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

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AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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